SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 7, 2013

Registrars push back at proposed school voting ban

BY ALAN BURKE
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — The city’s Board of Registrars is willing to discuss meeting partway in response to a School Committee campaign to end voting in the schools. But in a letter from Chairperson Judith Blodgett, the board rejected the idea that voting should be banned altogether from school buildings.

“The Board feels that a relocation effort of this magnitude is an impractical solution to the safety concerns raised by the School Committee,” wrote Blodgett, wife of District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. “Rather, a more reasonable solution is to consider a modified relocation plan accompanied by an assessment of the remaining polling locations in question.”

Offering to work with the schools to address their concerns, she added, “We respectfully ask the School Committee to re-evaluate their position on this matter, and consider a more balanced solution that would satisfy the greatest number of people.” In what she describes as a “thorough analysis of the issue,” Blodgett stressed the importance of making voting convenient for the public, suggesting that a “voting location remain as constant as possible, to avoid confusion and support voter turnout.”

Noting that the elimination of 10 school polling places would affect 18,000 voters and cost as much as $10,000, Blodgett argued, “In a typical election year, Election Day affects one school day and represents 6 hours out of our 13-hour day.”

The School Committee voted in the spring to consider removing voting from the schools. Member Brandi Carpenter cited the safety risk of having so many strangers coming and going. Further, she complained over the dangers of increased traffic, as well as the disruption, including roped-off facilities. Her colleagues have agreed that an opinion from City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski gives them the right to banish voting from the schools.

School Committee members point out that voting can take place multiple times each year, including for primaries, general elections and special elections.

The registrars propose moving Ward 4, Precinct 3, from Peabody High School to Temple Beth Shalom; moving Ward 5, Precinct 1, from the Kiley School to Temple Ner Tamid; moving Ward 5, Precinct 3, from McCarthy School to either Temple Ner Tamid or West Congregational Church; moving Ward 6, Precinct 1, from the West Memorial School to the West Congregational Church or the Community Covenant Church.

Each of these changes would be dependent on winning acceptance from the religious institutions named.

Addressing both the issues of safety and disruption, Blodgett wrote, “Currently, the police presence at schools on Election Day is greater than at any other time of the year. If this is still insufficient, we can discuss the option of providing additional security measures during school. Another option is to schedule a teacher Professional Development Day for the primary elections in September, just as this option is used for final elections in November, which means schools will be closed for the day.”

Blodgett also addressed a suggestion by Carpenter, who cited the experience of the Worcester city government in putting voting booths in places like supermarkets. Carpenter sees this as a convenience for voters likely to be there anyway. Blodgett replied, “The Board does not support utilizing a private, for-profit facility that would provide businesses with additional customer volume in the form of voters.”

After hearing a reporter’s summary of the letter, School Committee member David McGeney expressed his willingness to discuss it with the registrars.

“I’m appreciative of the thoughtfulness of the response,” he said. Additionally, he acknowledged that the notion of moving voters out is not popular but added, “Our main concern is the safety of our children.”

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.